£28k for woman sacked by Northern Ireland firm for being pregnant
A young woman has been awarded £28,000 after a tribunal concluded that the loss of her job was linked to her pregnancy.
Laura Gruzdaite, who worked for McGrane Nurseries Ltd near Tandragee, Co Armagh, was unjustifiably questioned about her absences for maternity-related appointments.
She was not paid for her time off for antenatal appointments and a manager changed their attitude to her, the tribunal found.
The 26-year-old, who is originally from Lithuania but now living in Co Armagh, took a case alleging unlawful discrimination.
She claimed she was dismissed for a reason relating to her pregnancy and was treated adversely after announcing her pregnancy.
The industrial tribunal found unanimously in her favour and awarded her £27,917.
It concluded that "a decision was made to terminate the claimant's contract by choosing her to leave earlier than others because she had been on antenatal appointments and would be going on more appointments".
Ms Gruzdaite said: "I have suffered a lot of stress following my dismissal from work and had to seek help from my doctor. I was very worried that the stress could cause complications or even a miscarriage.
"We were in a very bad situation for a time and it is a great relief to me to have this all finished."
Ms Gruzdaite's case was supported by the Equality Commission. She added: "I am very grateful to the Equality Commission for helping me.
"No woman should lose her job because she is pregnant and it is important that women challenge such treatment."
Ms Gruzdaite and her husband Andrius Jasinevicius started work at McGrane Nurseries Ltd, a wholesale suppliers of plants, in January 2018, and were given a blank contract to sign with no start or end dates.
She believed she was coming to Northern Ireland for a permanent job but at no point was she told it was to be a seasonal job.
When she announced her pregnancy and showed the appointment letter for her first antenatal appointment to one of her managers on September 14, 2018, he forgot to tell the other manager about it.
Ms Gruzdaite was called to a meeting on September 18 with both managers to explain why she had not been at work.
She also told a manager on October 8 about a later scan appointment on October 10, and she was called in to a meeting about her absence on October 11.
The tribunal found that she was unjustifiably questioned about her absence on September 14 and October 10 when she had told her manager that she was off for antenatal appointments.
The employer accepted that they failed to pay Ms Gruzdaite for her time off attending the antenatal appointments.
The tribunal found that a manager was less friendly to Ms Gruzdaite after she announced her pregnancy.
On October 10, while she and her husband were at that antenatal appointment, their employers held a meeting at which a group of seasonal workers were given one week's notice of termination.
The couple were subsequently called in to meet with their employers on October 12 and were informed of their dismissal.
Other seasonal workers were kept on by the employer and carried out the duties previously performed by Laura.
On that day, her manager said to her: "You will need more days off for your pregnancy doctor's appointment... you already skipped work on Wednesday when you had your ultrasound scan."
At tribunal, Ms Gruzdaite said: "On that day I got very upset because both of our contracts had been terminated.
"We were waiting for our child to come into this world but both of us were unemployed and had no additional income.
"When I returned to my place of work following this conversation, I felt nauseous, my hands were shaking, and I felt a dull pain and a stretching sensation in my stomach."
The tribunal concluded the decision to terminate Ms Gruzdaite's contract was tainted by discrimination in that it was connected to her pregnancy.
Her dismissal was both unfair and an act of unlawful discrimination, it ruled.
Dr Michael Wardlow, the chief commissioner of the Equality Commission, said around a quarter of all the complaints of discrimination made to its advice line each year are to do with sex discrimination.
Of those, consistently the largest number, around 22% of the total, are about pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
Mr Wardlow said: "It is dispiriting that we are at tribunal once again supporting another case of pregnancy discrimination.
"I'm afraid this is still all too common and, in spite of the legislation being in place for more than 40 years, some employers still seem to be unaware of the law and the consequences of breaching it.
"Laura Gruzdaite was 20 weeks' pregnant at the time she and her husband were dismissed.
"They had arrived in Northern Ireland ready and willing to work and have started to make their life here.
"Laura's husband has since found other work and she is caring for their baby."
A spokesperson for McGrane Nurseries said: "We acknowledge the findings of the Equality Commission.
"We have engaged the services of a professional HR company who are assisting us in implementing a series of policies and practices to ensure we meet the highest standards in relation to the issues highlighted in the judgment of this case.
"This situation should never have occurred. We apologise to Laura for the upset caused to both her and her family and hope that this ruling will allow them to move forward."